What causes us to sleep? Neurotransmitters and messenger substances
Several areas of the brain are involved in sleep. They influence our sleep-wake rhythm by releasing certain messenger substances. The most important of these messenger substances are:
Norepinephrine (noradrenaline) - activates the brain and thus promotes alertness. Benzodiazepines can prevent the transport of noradrenaline to the forebrain. In the case of serious sleep disorders, Norepinephrines can therefore be used as sleeping pills.
Adenosine - a substance that makes humans tired. It will be released when we have been awake for a long time. Adenosine inhibits the activating neurotransmitters like norepinephrine.
Melatonin - promotes sleep. However, bright (blue) light inhibits the formation of melatonin. That's why we sleep better in the dark. The melatonin concentration increases overnight and reaches its peak around three in the morning. With age, the body produces less melatonin. Melatonin itself is not a fatigue maker, even if it ultimately has a similar effect. Rather, it is a timer: Melatonin in an increased output indicates that it is time to go to bed.
Some key ideas to help the little ones in the house get a good night's sleep.
We all need to sleep and rest, and this action usually comes naturally at night, especially when we are very tired; but it is not only important to sleep, but also to have a deep, restful and good quality sleep for a sufficient number of hours.
To achieve the goal of a good quality rest, sleep hygiene is essential; this consists of all those guidelines, habits and measures that favour quality sleep, which makes adequate rest possible.
In childhood, sleep is especially important since it is directly linked to child cognitive and physical development. In this article we introduce 10 sleep guidelines to promote good sleep habits in children.
Why is sleeping well important? Sleep and child development.
It is of great importance to maintain good sleep hygiene to ensure a restful sleep, as sleep is a vital function necessary for many other functions during the waking phase.
Think about when we are excessively tired during the day, dozing off. Don't we all perform poorly? When tired, we work less efficiently, our ability to learn decreases, and we may even be in a bad mood, and highly irritable.
This happens to adults, but the implications of disrupted sleep patterns for children are far more significant. Poor sleep habits in children will negatively impact their physical and cognitive development.
That's why sleep hygiene in children should be encouraged and cared for from a very early age. Moreover, the sooner children acquire these habits, the sooner they will internalize them, and the easier it will be for them to continue applying them in the future.
In this article we will focus on sleep hygiene in children, although most of these guidelines can also be applied to adults.
10 general guidelines for promoting good sleep hygiene in children:
1. Maintain regular schedules
Schedules and routines are essential parts of promoting good sleep hygiene in children. This means that ideally children should go to bed at the same time each day (or if not at the same time, at least around a certain hour).
The chosen routine or schedule should also be maintained during the weekends. Routines structure the mind and body, and are essential for the body to associate a certain time of the day with bedtime.
2. Avoid stimulants
Another guideline for promoting sleep hygiene in children is to avoid stimulant foods and drinks. In particular, sugar and caffeinated beverages intake should be limited.
Ideally, children should not drink this type of beverages at all, but if they do, children shouldn't consume this type of beverages at a late hour of the day, much less before going to sleep.
3. Encourage exposure to light in the morning
According to research blue light is key to a balanced circadian rhythm in humans. While bright morning light resets the human circadian rhythm, blue light which is high-energy visible light, does it with the greatest efficiency.
Exposure to bright light in the morning is known to bring forward sleep at night, so incorporating this habit into your child's routine can also help them sleep better. And if the light is natural, it is even better.
4. Avoid LCD screens (or use a blue light filter)
Blue light emitted by devices such as smartphones and tablets, is highly inadvisable when you want to fall asleep, because they produce just the opposite effect of stimulating the brain. Research has shown that exposure to blue light interferes with the function of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the human circadian rhythm, more than any other type of light.
So, especially concerning sleep hygiene in children, it is totally inadvisable to use blue light emitting devices just before going to sleep; if children use LCD screens, it should be at a reasonable time, for example until five or six in the afternoon.
5. Avoid video games
Along the lines of the previous guideline, the use of video games before going to sleep is also discouraged, because they tend to excite and activate the mind, making the children "alert", just the opposite of what is needed for a good night's sleep.
6. The bed, to sleep
It seems very absurd, but sometimes we disregard this pattern and don't even realize it. A living organism, on both mental and physiological levels, must associate the bed exclusively with sleep; that is why if children, in addition to sleeping in the bed, also play in it, eat, watch movies or other things, this can create real difficulties at the time of going to sleep and falling asleep.
Why? Because their organism no longer associates the bed with sleep, but with many other activities, which render sleep difficult. It is a question of classic conditioning (a behavioral response is produced when a conditioned stimulus becomes associated with an unrelated unconditioned stimulus).
7. Do not use the TV to fall asleep
Another guideline we propose to encourage sleep hygiene in children, related to previous guidelines concerning LCD screens, is to avoid the use of TV to fall asleep.
Logically, we should not get drastic and avoid TV at all costs, but rather moderate its use. If children can fall asleep by other means, so much the better (e.g. a book), because the TV stimulates their brain instead of relaxing it.
8. Create an environment that facilitates sleep
It's common sense; we sleep better in environments where we feel comfortable and at ease, in terms of temperature, position, clothes.
That is why it is very important to take care of the environment where we sleep (i.e. in this case the child's room); this includes adjusting the temperature of the room, encouraging silence, making sure the child wears appropriate clothes (neither too tight nor too loose), etc.
On the other hand, there are children who like a bit of soft music, or sounds that imitate the waves of the sea, wind, rain, etc. For this, there are applications that can be useful (check out the Google Store or App Store).
9. Encourage regular physical exercise
Practicing sport is great in many ways: one of them is to relax! Although physical exercise stimulates the body and mind, when a certain time passes since training, we feel relaxed and our body appreciates it.
So, regular physical exercise can also promote good sleep hygiene in children.
10. Practice by example
Sometimes, in order to acquire good sleep habits, there is nothing better than a good model; that is why, as parents, practicing by example can help many of our children in this regard.
This means applying the above guidelines and having children see it, since in addition to modeling, it can help our children become aware of the importance of these habits and internalize them more easily.
Practising by example also means creating a calm and peaceful atmosphere at home from mid-afternoon until bedtime.
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